With so many post-apocalyptic video games out these days, the wasteland is quickly approaching World War II for most overused setting. That Id Software‘s Rage can still feel so fresh and fun is a testament to the high productions values behind the company that brought us the likes of Doom and Quake.
In Rage, this particular apocalypse is kicked off with a massive asteroid strike. In order to guarantee the future of humanity, the best and brightest were put into stasis beneath the ground as part of the Ark program. The player takes control of one of these Ark survivors who wakes up many years after the impact. Rage is hardly charting new setting territory, but I appreciated that it justifies your in-game health regeneration and HUD as all of the Ark participants have been injected with nanites. What does become interesting is the player’s interaction with the various settlements, towns and bandits groups, all of which have their own individual flavors. For example, the Gearheads are a group of bandits predisposed to engineering. They run a local power plant and have filled it with all manner of nasty mechanical traps. You’re asked by the seedy mayor of Subway Town, which is made up of subway cars and stations, to permanently divert power to the town. If you do this, he’ll turn a blind eye to you and your Resistance buddies in your fight against the Authority.
One problem with Rage‘s storytelling is that it doesn’t particularly fill in the details. Based on other character’s dialogue and that they named their origination “The Authority”, you’ve got a pretty good idea it’s a fascist police state before you ever bump into them, but the game never really tells you why they are doing any of the bad things that they are. There’s something to be appreciated about a game letting you discover details outside of boring exposition dumps, but they still need to be in there somewhere. The other major issue is the rather anti-climactic ending. Without spoiling too much, there is all this buildup of sending you “where no one has returned from before,” that “they are working on something big,” but Rage doesn’t deliver on this finale at all unfortunately. In fact it completely outdoes itself hours before by having you face off against a building-sized mutant who throws chunks of balcony at you.
Rage does manage to deliver really well in some other departments, and it’s still a joy to play when all of the elements come together. While it may draw comparisons at a glance to more open world games like Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas, Rage is actually more similar in gameplay to Borderlands and BioShock. There is a heavy emphasis on bringing the right equipment for the job, with every weapon having multiple ammunition types and crafting opening even more options. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with an encounter then it might be time to piece together a few sentry robots to take some of the attention away from you, or swap out your buckshot for pop rockets, the half way points between a shotgun shell and a grenade. It can be a little confusing at first swapping between quick slotted weapons, each with two or three ammo types and your other quick slotted items with their own use button, but you’ll inevitably get the hang of it.
When you do die however, Rage cues up a new and interesting mechanic. Along with your nanotrites, you were also upgraded with a defibrillator that not only shocks you back to life but also delivers a debilitating zap to everyone around you. This puts you right back into the fight without the need for a reload, but it has a long recharge time so you’ll need to play it safe after using it. Sometimes however this only proves to delay the inevitable as you drop, pop back up and then simply get gunned down again for being in a bad spot the first time.
Aside from first person shooting, Rage splits its gameplay with driving. They called it The Wasteland for a reason and it’s certainly not somewhere you’d want to hoof it around. You’ll start out with a simple 4×4 and buggy, but as you complete missions and compete in races you get access to bigger and meaner cars with all manner of upgrades. Driving around the wasteland and busting up bandit patrols has a very Mad Max feel to it, and it’s not something too many other games have tapped in to . The racing is also enjoyable enough that it could have done well released as a stand-alone downloadable game. Though I was personally a little disappointed that you can only purchase vehicle upgrades with racing certificates and you also only race with provided cars and items. Putting the racing winnings to use against the bandits in the wastes is fine and all, but that same progression should have ported over to the racing sections as well.
Rage‘s single player campaign will take you roughly 12-14 hours to complete, depending on how many of the side missions and races you complete. It’s only a semi-open world, so there is not a lot of opportunity to explore. The game tries to encourage you to do so in the loading screens, but generally all you’ll find is a door to some quest area that you are not allowed to enter yet. Another similar problem is the reuse of levels, frequently running through them in reverse. Now the game always gives you fair enough reasons for returning to these places, usually as side missions, and it speaks highly of the level design that they still feel tight to play, but it’s still just playing the same area again. At least the levels look great though.
Probably Rage’s best feature is its graphics, particularly the animations. While the backgrounds might seem to go on forever and really sells the degradation of the enviornment, it’s the character animations that really shine. With most games are content with characters just walking, firing and crouching, Rage really pushes the envelope of movements. When shot in the leg, an enemy will stumble how you might expect or fire blindly around a corner if you’re shooting near him. There are also alternate animations for the same or similar action, so it never quite leaves you with that familiar feeling over and over. The Wingstick, a bladed boomerang, will sometimes slice a head clean off or somewhat satisfyingly bury straight into an enemy’s face causing them to slump and fall forward like a sack of wasteland potatoes.
The other highlights of this emphasis on model animations are the character interactions; you’ll walk up to someone and they’ll look up and acknowledge your presence before striking up a conversation complete with hand gestures and motions. This really sells them as a person and not simply a cutscene or as a zoomed in face to pick dialogue options too. If someone is interested in giving you a job, they might actually wave and call you over instead of just sitting under a glowing exclamation mark.
Bottom line: While the experience is not perfect, Rage is still an enjoyable re-entry into the post-apocalypse.
Recommendation: If you’re not wholly sick of the post-apocalypse setting, give Rage a look.[rating=4.5]
This review is based on the 360 version of the game and only its single player portion as we haven’t had the opportunity to try multiplayer yet.